Opinion: Family-Style Dining is Terrible

“Family-style” ordering for a group at a nice restaurant is pretentious, dumb, a bad idea, and simply the worst. It is a frustrating, unsatisfying, logistical dumpster fire of an experience, and it is always wrong, no matter what any of you say. 

There are three big drivers for the crime against humanity which is “family-style” dining.

  1. It is a foolish, foul practice of gluttons who have been over-fed to the point at which they find the taste of any one particular food unbearably monotonous beyond two or three bites. 
  2. It is a loophole for nutrition-conscious people and dieters. They may order the Vegan Cauliflower Bites with Wheat-grass Hummus Dip, and feel good about themselves, while also taking a disproportionate serving from the Southern-Fried Chicken Bacon Slider plate that I ordered.
  3. It is enabling for cheapskate behavior, because no matter how much you eat, the check will be split evenly.

So you see, from the beginning, “family-style” dining is rooted in vice, lies, and moral corruption. And there are major downsides. For example, just a few of my grievances:

  • Nobody gets to eat more than a small portion of the type of food they actually would have ordered. Sure, best-case scenario, I will be given the opportunity to have a slice of the awesome, delicious thing I ordered. That’s if I’m lucky. Truth is, there’s a real good chance I’ll only get a bite or a nibble of it. Invariably, the thing that I ordered is the same thing that everyone else would have ordered, if they were honest with themselves. I pick the tastiest thing on the menu, rather than trying to be different, exotic, or interesting. Everyone else is insecure and thinks ordering the weirdest thing on the menu is somehow going to get them a book deal and a Netflix series, as they become the next Anthony Bourdain. Among themselves, they manage to curate a smorgasbord of unwanted, pretentious nonsense. The thing I ordered stands out as a clear winner, every time. Eventually, when my plate gets passed to me, it’s been heavily taxed, but don’t worry, plenty on the share-plate of weird-novelty-thing-we-ordered-to-be-adventurous left over, and this restaurant actually did manage to make the steamed veggie platter taste better than normal steamed veggies (read “very low bar”), so that’s a win!
  • It takes up a ridiculous amount of space on the table. “Family-style” poses a logistical nightmare that is simply never addressed. Every single entree and appetizer dish has to be on the table IN ADDITION to the serving plates and silverware of each party member. The math just doesn’t add up. There’s nowhere to put anything. Everybody has to eat with little t-rex arms, trying to not knock over drinks or put elbows into plates of whatever. This is plain stupid.
  • Another logistical fail-point, is the fact that you have to constantly be passing things around. The interruptions are infuriating. Forget trying to just enjoy your food, much less have a conversation with somebody at the table. Most of your focus goes into using your aforementioned t-rex arms to move big, hot, sauce-dripping share-plates, dexterously above and around various glasses, bottles, candles, other people’s t-rex arms, etc, to land on some precise little patch of table. Seriously, what are people thinking, when they suggest family -style?
  • It’s a cheapskate’s fantasy. All these dishes get ordered, and nobody takes ownership of any of them. There’s no accountability. They are all “share-plates”. There is no private property, and friends, that is called socialism, which as we know, always leads to violence. Family-style is an honor-system, where each member is trusted to take the appropriate fraction of each dish. I do not trust my friends or even my family to act justly within such a system. It is survival of the fittest — it’s a game of who can eat food the most, and feel shame the least. There’s no referee. And we all pay the same portion of the bill.
  • It’s an aesthetically flawed, and a germophobe’s nightmare: I’m hardly the type to live my life in fear of germs, but c’mon, let’s be honest: share plates are GROSS. Everybody’s getting their hands, breath, and saliva on the food, using whatever utensil around that still looks sort of clean. The food is falling apart and losing all of it’s presentation appeal, as everyone struggles with a butter knife (again – t-rex arms) to slice up something that was intended to be chewed, never to be sliced. By the time a plate has been passed by three people, the thing looks like wet gourmet dog food.

In conclusion, I don’t like family-style dining very much. Having said all of this, some of you may still disagree with me, and that is ok. We don’t have to be friends or respect one another. Ok, maybe we can revisit this sometime when I’m not hangry. 


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